Soaring with the Birds
Mascots like Gritty, the Phillie Phanatic, and Swoop are ingrained in Philadelphia sports culture and are as recognizable as the teams and players. They are a symbol of fandom and team pride. But for the NFC Champion Philadelphia Eagles, that symbolism extends beyond a costumed caricature. Their two live Eagle mascots are a huge part of the gameday experience, and Ursinus alumna Elisa Tyler ’14 is partially responsible for their care and training.
A typical Sunday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field—home of the NFC Champion Philadelphia Eagles—is alive with all the passion of the football faithful. And while scenes of revelry play out at parking lot tailgates and all over the stadium on game days, an Ursinus College alumna can be found among the fans with an official live mascot in tow.
Elisa Tyler ’14, interim co-director of education and manager of education engagement at the Elmwood Park Zoo in Norristown, Pa., is part of a team that trains and handles two live eagles—Reggie and Noah—at Philadelphia football home games. Her job is to educate visitors about bald eagles, conservation, and to provide information about how people can help protect the species.
“One of my favorite things is when visitors share their experiences with wild eagles,” Tyler said. “They’ve made such an amazing comeback because they were almost extinct, and I like hearing how excited people get when they talk about seeing them out in the wild.”
Tyler was a biology and psychology major at Ursinus and began her career at the Elmwood Park Zoo immediately after graduating. She’s been working with birds of prey for nine years and in her role, she is responsible for on- and off-site programming with live animals.
Neither of the mascot ambassadors for the Philadelphia Eagles fly around the stadium before games—a common question that Tyler gets from fans. Both are in the care of the Elmwood Park Zoo staff because they are unfit to return to the wild. Noah, who is 21 years old, suffered a head injury from a fall when he was just eight weeks old. He has called the zoo home since 2008 and has been a Philadelphia Eagles ambassador since 2013.
Reggie, who suffered fractures to his wing—making him unable to fly—has been with the zoo since 2011 and became an Eagles ambassador in 2019. Tyler has been working with Reggie as a handler and assistant trainer for the past two years, and she said one of her favorite parts of her job is learning all the intricacies of the birds and their behavior.
“Wild eagles really don’t want anything to do with people, so for our eagles to sit calmly on a perch in front of a large, noisy crowd of people is great because we know that they are confident and they feel comfortable in their environment,” she said.
Tyler is also one of the handlers and trainers for Stella, a great horned owl who is a live mascot for Temple University athletic events, including football, basketball, and gymnastics.
As for the local pro football team, Tyler—and Reggie and Noah—didn’t travel to Glendale, Ariz., to help root for the Eagles in the Super Bowl, but back home, the community connection remained strong with fans throughout the region.
“So many fans want to know all about the real mascots,” Tyler said. “It all comes down to our mission, which is to inspire our guests to become active participants in conservation,” she said.